Originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator (published: Wed., Nov. 3, 2021)

by: By Art Eggleton and Rabia Khedr

More than 200 influential Canadians call on the federal government to fast track the Canada Disability Benefit

What do former Health Minister, Allan Rock; Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia; former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley; professional dancer, Luca Patuelli; ‘Mincome’ economist Evelyn Forget; best-selling author, Tara Ross; the CEO of Community Foundations of Canada, Andrew Chunilall; singer-song writer, Christa Couture; disability activists, Ali Mohammed and Meenu Sikand; several order of Canada recipients, noted physicians and academics — along with most major disability organizations from across the country – all have in common?

They are among the more than 200 political personalities, academics, artists, non-profit and business leaders that have signed an open letter asking the federal government to fast track the Canada Disability Benefit — and to do so with the active and genuine involvement of disabled people every step of the way.

People with disabilities make up 41 per cent of our population living in poverty.

The Canada Disability Benefit was first introduced by the federal government in the Speech from the Throne a year ago and is the direct result of years of advocacy from the disability community. Legislation tabled before Parliament recessed last summer promised a first: a federally funded income support for persons with disabilities – that would not replace provincial programs and other supports but complement it — so that they are no longer consigned to a life lived in poverty.
Economists predict that poverty in Canada would be reduced by as much as 40 per cent overall by eliminating disability poverty. It’s an historic opportunity – something no government in the world has ever committed to.
It’s time now to make the Canada Disability Benefit a reality.

The good news is that Canadians across the political spectrum support the idea. In a recent Angus Reid survey, 89 percent of Canadians say it’s time to end poverty for people with disabilities. And in the recent federal election, all of the major political parties included the needs of persons with disabilities in their platforms.

There is a new awakening, a new dawn in our consciousness with Canadians calling for a recalculating of fairness and justice – and working toward a better future for all, including for people living with disabilities experiencing poverty.

There is no need to study the problem for years first as the federal government has indicated they might do in the last Parliament; we have oodles of data, we have public support, and political will across party lines — now we need action.

As our governments prepare for economic recovery post-pandemic, the sad reality is that people with disabilities may be left even further behind. COVID-19 was especially hard on people with disabilities.

Currently, a disproportionate number of people with disabilities in Canada are depending on food banks and finding themselves homeless. They are finding themselves without adequate daily living supports. Provincial disability benefits are failing them, falling well below the poverty line. Too many people with disabilities are considering dying from despair.

Canada is a prosperous nation – among the richest in the world. But in the heart of business affluence in this country, not too far away from Bay Street, there are people with disabilities like Ryan begging money to buy food. There is Mariam living in an inaccessible apartment as her disability progresses toward needing a wheelchair full-time. And there is Precious, whose mental health is deteriorating because she has no job to go back to as a result of the pandemic.

People with disabilities, their families, friends and fellow Canadians want Canada’s 44th parliament to make history and leave a cross-partisan legacy. We expect all-party support for fast action on the Canada Disability Benefit – to make Canada the first country in the world to provide a livable income supplement for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are ready to work together with the federal government to fast-track consultation, provide the research and move quickly to implement the Canada Disability Benefit.

Let’s work together and make this happen.

The open letter was coordinated by Disability Without Poverty, March of Dimes Canada, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Race & Disability Canada and can be found at: https://www.disabilitywithoutpoverty.ca/

Art Eggleton is a former Senator, MP, Cabinet Minister, and a former Mayor of Toronto. He is a long-time advocate to alleviate poverty in Canada.

Rabia Khedr is a National Director for Disability Without Poverty and a former Ontario Human Rights Commissioner. She is currently a member of the Minister’s Disability Advisory Group appointed by Minister Carla Qualtrough.